90.In this chapter we consider some of the issues associated with short-term and emergency supported housing. First, we look at whether there is a strong case for an alternative funding mechanism for this type of provision. We also explore whether Housing Benefit and Universal Credit created a barrier to employment for people in short-term supported housing. Finally, we consider whether there were any barriers to people moving back into general needs accommodation when they were ready.
91.Supported housing is an umbrella term that incorporates many different types of provision, from long-term sheltered accommodation for older people, to very short-term emergency housing for people who have been made homeless or women fleeing domestic violence. Many stakeholders have suggested, therefore, that different types of provision might benefit from different funding mechanisms. Havant Housing Association told us, “This is not one market and any belief that one decision can produce one solution for supported housing as a whole is unrealistic”. Similarly, John Glenton told us:
People who want to… move into a sheltered scheme where there is a community that can help them in all kinds of ways, around health and wellbeing, isolation and loneliness, need security that their rent is going to be paid. That should absolutely be treated in a different way to someone who is in a night shelter or women’s refuge for three to six months.
The Government also acknowledged this in its consultation, saying, “We recognise a different approach may be needed for short term accommodation, including hostels and refuges”.
92.The Salvation Army urged the Government to define what it meant by short-term supported housing. They noted, for example, that the Supporting People programme defined ‘short-term’ as any service supplying accommodation for up to two years, arguing that such a definition offered a much-needed flexibility to providers. They called on the Government to introduce a separate funding model for supported housing services provided for up to two years. PlaceShapers also emphasised the importance of flexibility, but argued that, rather than a definition focusing on a maximum period of stay, the Government should instead focus on the intended use of the accommodation, and called on the Government to remove housing costs from Universal Credit for all non-permanent housing. Support Solutions UK told us the phrase ‘short-term’ was unhelpful because it reinforced the primacy of budget management over meeting need. They noted that a person who arrived with a short-term need might also require longer-term support, and argued that the system should not be so complicated that the provider has to go to multiple funding sources to meet additional needs. Definitions of client groups did not correspond to the length of the interventions needed to assist them and that it would be wrong to assume that homeless people, for example, had short-term support needs, while all older people and those with disabilities needed longer-term support. The Minister for Local Government told us the Government was looking at a definition for short-term accommodation very carefully and that they would, “ … provide some parameters, whether that would be as per particular sectors or a wider definition for “short-term accommodation”.
93.We heard that very short-term supported housing was at a particular disadvantage under Universal Credit. St Mungo’s highlighted that 20 per cent of their residents in 2015 and 2016 had stayed for less than thirty days. With payment for Universal Credit calculated on a monthly basis, and money taking at least five weeks to arrive, providers were unlikely to receive rent owed from residents who moved out of accommodation before their first payment, or between two monthly payments. The Minister for Welfare Delivery acknowledged this and told us the Government was “keen to remove the very short-term accommodation from this model, because we can see that it does not work and is not going to work”.
94.BCHA told us that 57 per cent of their tenants moved away within the first three months of their support start date, and providers needed greater assurances that their rental costs would be met. They told us that a system of direct payment to providers would be a more appropriate funding mechanism for very short-term accommodation, with a flexible approach of weekly or fortnightly payments. Direct payments to providers for emergency accommodation were supported by a number of organisations, including Framework Housing Association, who told us it was frustrating to need to “argue over and over again for measures that should be uncontroversial”. They recommended that housing payments should only be made directly to residents once this had been agreed with the provider as part of an individual support plan.
95.Some providers called for a national funding mechanism for short-term supported housing. Bromford told us payments should be made directly to providers on a scheme-by-scheme basis, rather than to individuals, to ensure services were available when people need them. The LGA suggested that a separate grant for councils for the commissioning of short-term crisis accommodation could remove the need to rely on the Housing Benefit received by individual tenants. Hestia Housing Support, a London-based charity working with adults and children in crisis, called for a centrally commissioned and funded model for emergency accommodation, similar to the commissioning of Approved Premises by the Ministry of Justice and the commissioning of housing for Victims of Human Trafficking by the Home Office. Emmaus—an organisation that provides both short-term and long-term accommodation—recommended that it, along with other similar hybrid organisations, should also sit outside the new funding mechanism and instead be funded within a national framework.
96.Some, however, cautioned against implementing multiple, complex funding mechanisms for different types of supported housing. Octavia Housing warned against the implementation of “numerous or complicated funding models that will necessitate increased administration and associated costs for both commissioners and providers”, and believed that there should instead be a “simple” funding model. Similarly, Dr Jonathan Hobson, an expert in supported housing from the University of Gloucestershire, told us:
One of the issues that we found a lot of organisations are concerned about is complexity. The smaller providers really struggle to deal with the complexity of these issues. They do not have the staff; they do not have the expertise. We have seen smaller providers falling out of the market and being replaced by larger providers… a lot of these smaller providers have a lot of local knowledge, can be very reflective on local needs and sometimes more targeted in what they do. They are struggling with the demands of working out how they are going to provide this service.
97.The Government is right to consider an alternative funding mechanism for very short-term accommodation, given the emergency nature of that provision and the inability of Universal Credit to reflect short-term changes in circumstance. The Government should consider a system of grants paid to local authorities so they are able to commission emergency accommodation in their areas. Local authorities should pay providers directly, so services are available when they are needed.
98.Refuges are a distinct service that make up just one per cent of the supported housing sector. There are 269 refuge service providers in England, providing 3,649 bed spaces across the country and sanctuary for many of the 12,000 women and 12,000 children who are forced to flee their homes each year due to domestic violence. Women’s Aid told us that women were the primary focus for the provision of refuge accommodation as they were more likely to experience coercive control, financial abuse and sexual violence, and were at greater risk of domestic homicide. Refuges are able to offer women and their children:
… a planned programme of therapeutic and practical support from staff and access peer support from other residents. This will include: access to information and advocacy; emotional support; access to specialist support workers (e.g. drugs/alcohol misuse, mental health, sexual abuse); access to recovery work; access to support for children (where needed); practical help; key work & support planning (work around support needs including e.g. parenting, finances and wellbeing); safety planning; and counselling.
Specialist support is also provided for Black Minority Ethnic (BME) women, deaf women and women with learning disabilities. Women and their children typically remain in a refuge for between 17 and 25 weeks, although one in five stay for less than a month.
99.In March 2016, the Government launched a four-year strategy for ending violence against women and girls. It aimed to ensure, “no victim is turned away from accessing critical support services delivered by refuges, rape support centres and FGM and forced marriage units” by 2020. Through this strategy, the Government committed to providing £80 million of dedicated funding to provide core support for refuges and other accommodation-based services, with specific provision for women from BME backgrounds and services for the most vulnerable with complex needs.
100.Women’s Aid said the Government had “shown solid leadership and a clear approach to responding to, tackling and reducing domestic abuse”. However, they told us the Government’s proposed funding model for supported housing had “the potential to undermine this Government’s efforts” and the target that no woman be turned away from a refuge was at risk of not being delivered. In 2014–15, two-thirds of the 18,249 referrals for women and children were declined by refuges, of which a quarter were due to a lack of available bed space and 10 per cent were because the service was unable to meet the particular additional support needs of the women or their children. Sian Hawkins said there was “a real crisis in terms of the funding model as it is at the moment”, with a loss of 17 per cent of refuge provision between 2010 and 2014 due to local authority budget cuts and poor commissioning practices. We heard the Government’s proposals for a new funding mechanism were likely to exacerbate these problems: 67 per cent of refuges would close if the Government implemented its proposals in full, while 87 per cent would not be able to continue with their current level of service provision.
101.Women’s Aid told us refuges faced unique challenges within the supported housing sector, which made the current and proposed future funding mechanisms unsuitable for this type of provision. In particular, Sian Hawkins emphasised the importance of the national network that underpinned the provision of women’s refuges across the country. She highlighted that 77.6 per cent of women in refuges travelled from another local authority area to access a refuge in 2015, with migration tending to balance evenly across the country. However, the current and future proposed funding models placed too much focus on local commissioning, such that many local authorities had imposed caps—often to a level of 90 per cent—on the number of non-local women able to access a refuge. Merida, a survivor of domestic violence who lived in a women’s refuge, told us she was also aware local authorities would assess whether a person had ‘local connections’ to an area as a criterion to determine whether to rehouse someone. She explained, “In a case of domestic violence, local connections are very, very dangerous. In nine chances out of 10, your abuser knows your friends and your connections, so it is easy for them to locate you”.
102.Women’s Aid told us that the present and proposed future funding mechanism also incentivised local authorities to commission generic, lower-cost providers that would deliver “one-size fits all” short term accommodation provision, as opposed to specialised care for abused women and their children. They feared some non-commissioned provision, often offering specialised services for BME women and other marginalised groups, might no longer be financially viable under the new funding mechanism, if local authorities decided not to include them in their allocations for top-up funding.
103.As with other forms of emergency and short-term accommodation, refuges also faced funding challenges associated with Universal Credit. With a significant proportion of women choosing only to stay in refuges for short periods of time, the average waiting time for Universal Credit payment was not workable for many residents and created significant difficulties for refuges seeking to cover their costs. In addition, there were also concerns that the new funding model did not reflect how women with no recourse to public funds, such as those with an insecure immigration status—which accounted for just under five per cent of all women in refuges—would be able to seek financial support.
104.Women’s Aid told us a separate funding model was required for refuges, reflecting the national nature of the provision and ensuring that women and their children have access to specialised support. They urged the Government to implement a clear accountability process for local authorities and others commissioning refuges, requiring them to implement services that met the specific needs of women and children fleeing abuse, including specific minority groups, such as BME women and children, disabled women and children, and those who have no recourse to public funds. In particular, Women’s Aid called on the Government to make a commitment that no refuge service would close or have to turn away women and children as a result of the new model of funding.
105.Refuges for women and children have unique challenges within the supported housing sector. This should be reflected in a distinct model of funding, separate to the arrangements for other forms of supported housing. In particular, it is essential that refuges are able to operate as a national network, unrestrained by admission restrictions imposed by individual local authorities and with appropriate coverage across the country. The Government should work with Women’s Aid and refuge providers to devise a separate funding mechanism for this sector, likely to require a nationwide plan for the provision of refuges, facilitated through Government grants to local authorities. The Government should reconfirm its target that “no victim is turned away from accessing critical support services delivered by refuges” by 2020.
106.We heard claims that Housing Benefit and Universal Credit created an additional barrier to work for people in higher-cost supported housing that people in lower-cost general needs accommodation did not face to the same extent. The Government agreed that the legacy system of Housing Benefit and tax credit contained cliff edges, hours rules, earnings limits and other features which acted as a barrier to work, or to working and earning more. However, the Departments said Universal Credit had been designed with income tapers that provided clear work incentives. The Minister for Welfare Delivery explained that, from April 2017, the Universal Credit taper rate would increase such that claimants would be able to keep 37p of their benefits for every £1 earned. She told us the move to Universal Credit was an important change that enabled people to move into work and not face a cliff edge or loss of benefits. In addition, Universal Credit would not be reduced until recipients physically get their pay, so tenants would not be disadvantaged in the month between starting work and being paid.
107.Analysis undertaken by the House of Commons Library supported the Government’s view. It showed that Universal Credit would leave supported housing tenants better off by taking work, although the incentives were less clear under the legacy system of Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Housing Benefit. Library modelling looked at the work incentives for a single person aged 25 or over with no children in 2019/20, with rental costs for a single room covered at the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate, and who started a new job earning the National Living Wage. This analysis showed that Universal Credit was more generous than the legacy system had been between four and 27 hours worked, because Universal Credit did not replicate the severe pound-for-pound deduction of JSA. In addition, the legacy system left claimants with less net income if they worked between three and 12 hours than they would otherwise have been had they not been employed at all. The analysis demonstrated, therefore, that while the legacy system of JSA and Housing Benefit may have been a barrier to work for people in supported housing looking for part-time work, Universal Credit was not.
Work incentives for a single person aged 25 or over, 2019–20 (£ per week, nominal terms)
Single aged 25 or over, no child, rental costs for single room covered at illustrative LHA rate, earning the National Living Wage
Notes: National Living Wage projected to be £8.30 per hr in 2019–20
Source: House of Commons Library calculations based upon announcements in Summer Budget 2015, Autumn Statement 2015, Budget 2016 and Autumn Statement 2016
108.Those who suggested the benefits system was a barrier to work, such as Bromford, mainly cited inefficiencies within the system—such as its inability to cope with regular changes in circumstance, or long waiting times for claims. Many organisations also argued the taper rates were still too high. David Orr told us high taper rates were “like a very high level of tax on starting a new job”. Similarly, Framework Housing Association told us the problem was not that a claimant would be worse off in work, but that they were “not much better off”, and that the incentives could be improved with lower taper rates.
109.Most stakeholders, however, agreed with the Government that Universal Credit was not a barrier to work. Charlotte Norman said it was a “misconception” to suggest benefits created a barrier to work, and that PlaceShapers—the national network of more than 100 community based housing associations, of which St Vincent’s is a member—had helped 60,000 people into work over the last five years, including supported housing tenants. Anne Lawn told us her organisation had carried out research into whether benefits disincentivised people from finding work, and found that they did not; they actively supported them in doing so. Emmaus—a federation of independent charities and social enterprises which provide work for 750 formerly homeless people in 28 supported communities across the UK—told us Housing Benefit did not act as a disincentive to work, citing their own tenants who were already involved in meaningful work in social enterprises, as a condition of the provision of accommodation and support. However, Emmaus did warn that the implementation of Universal Credit could undermine their support model, as it required tenants to look for and take jobs before they were ready to do so.
110.We saw the support and guidance provided by One Housing to tenants at Arlington in Camden during our visit in March 2017. We were told residents were provided with one-to-one information, advice and guidance sessions, opportunities to obtain industry-recognised qualifications, support with job searching, applications and employability skills services, and on-going support when they start work. In the 2016–17 financial year, Arlington supported 720 residents into training, 142 into volunteering positions and 228 into employment, with companies including Marks & Spencer, Ocado, John Lewis and Premier Inn.
111.We heard similar views from supported housing tenants. Tessa Bolt told us she would be very keen to find work and had meetings with an employment advisor every six months. Merida expressed her view that there was nothing in Universal Credit that stopped a person going to work, and that tenants in her refuge were always encouraged to find employment. She acknowledged, however, that there was a perception amongst some women that they would not be better off in work, and that this required better information and education.
112.The Government believed that, while it was possible claimants might fear they would be worse off by taking work, this was an issue of perception, and claimants would be mistaken if they feared they lose housing support in its entirety, rather than it being reduced in the gradual and tapered way that is in fact the case. The Minister for Welfare Delivery told us it was important the Government challenged this perception, and there would be an important role for DWP work coaches in conveying this message to supported housing residents. She urged providers to encourage their residents to enter the job market and find more work once they had taken those first steps. She also suggested that improved joint working between the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would also help to support claimants into work.
113.Many supported housing residents are unlikely to be looking for work. However, a significant number of supported housing residents are of working age and keen to find employment. It is important, therefore, that the benefits system does not create barriers or disincentives to finding work for people who wish to do so. While the legacy system of Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit—with its cliff edges, hours rules, and earnings limits—may have acted as a barrier to work for people in supported housing, especially those looking for part-time work, Universal Credit has largely removed many of the main disincentives. The Government should ensure providers are aware that supported housing tenants claiming Universal Credit will not be worse off if they seek employment. On the contrary, a job should be seen as an important milestone towards independence and self-sufficiency.
114.Supported housing is a valuable resource in high demand. It is important, therefore, that residents who are ready to move into general needs accommodation are able to do so. Zhan McIntyre told us one of the main barriers for people looking to leave supported housing was a lack of suitable general needs accommodation, such as one or two-bedroom flats, for people to move into. While the lack of general needs accommodation is highly relevant and a key barrier for many people looking to leave supported housing, the provision of new homes is a complex policy area that would be impossible to consider in the necessary depth within the scope of our inquiry. It is, however, addressed in more detail within the scope of the Communities and Local Government Committee’s inquiry into ‘Capacity in the homebuilding industry’.
115.One issue raised a number of times by stakeholders in the supported housing sector were the barriers faced by younger people arising from provisions in the benefits system. Dr Jonathan Hobson told us the problem was particularly acute for people under 35, due to funding restrictions that applied to that age group. In particular, Gillian Connor highlighted the extension of the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) to under 35s in 2018 as a concern, noting the case of a young man in supported housing with her organisation who was ready to leave supported housing, but who had decided against moving out because the SAR rate would require him to move into unsuitable shared accommodation that could put his recovery at risk.
116.Concerns were also raised about recently announced changes to benefits rules that would mean future claimants of universal credit aged 18 to 21 years old would not receive housing support from April 2017. We were told that this might place a further barrier on the ability of younger people to move out of supported housing when they were ready. However, the Minister for Welfare Delivery argued there was a very long list of exemptions to this policy, saying:
I am confident that any young person who cannot return to the family home will be exempt from this policy, in addition to those who have been victims of domestic violence, those who are working 16 hours a week or the equivalent in UC, those who have been in the care system and anyone doing an apprenticeship. There is a long list of exemptions.
She told us the new restriction would only apply to people “who are making a lifestyle choice to leave home” and were actually “able to live with their parents or their family”.
117.We also heard that recent budget cuts had made it harder to provide floating support in general needs accommodation. Sense told us the closure in July 2015 of the Independent Living Fund (ILF)—discretionary Government funding provided to approximately 18,000 disabled people to enable them to live in the community, rather than in more intensive care—had made it more difficult to help people to live more independently in their own homes. Gillian Connor said the fall in Supporting People funding in recent years had also made it harder to help supported housing tenants move into general needs accommodation. She told us many of the individuals her organisation supported had very high needs, requiring at least 10 hours a week of home care, but that often only one or two hours a week were being offered by local authorities, which was not sufficient. Anne Lawn suggested the higher costs associated with sheltered housing were often smaller than what would be the cost of providing the necessary level of home care to elderly people in a general needs environment.
118.It is important that people are able to leave supported housing when they are ready to do so, for their own independence and to free up valuable space for other vulnerable people. Lack of appropriate general needs accommodation and of funding to give people a necessary level of support in their own homes are key barriers to helping people move on. For younger people, benefits restrictions further limit their choices as they look to leave supported housing.
119.The Government should ensure the benefits system does not discourage people from leaving supported housing when they are ready to do so. Benefits restrictions that may be justified in the private rented sector should not be applied to those looking to leave supported housing. The Government should therefore extend the exemption from the Shared Accommodation Rate to younger tenants wishing to leave supported housing. We also recommend that 18 to 21 year olds leaving supported housing be eligible for Housing Benefit, unless in the view of the supported housing provider, it is appropriate for them to return home. This would give them a greater choice of appropriate accommodation and encourage them to move out of supported housing more quickly when they are ready, freeing up valuable housing for other vulnerable people. We further recommend that, in response to this report, the Government clearly set out how 18 to 21 year olds leaving supported housing will be assessed for eligibility for Housing Benefit against existing exemptions.
169 Havant Housing Association ()
170 Q127 (John Glenton, Riverside Group)
171 , DCLG and DWP, November 2016
172 The Salvation Army (), paras 4–13
173 PlaceShapers ()
174 Support Solutions UK ()
175 Q217 (Marcus Jones MP, Department for Communities and Local Government)
176 For example, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (), para 3.5
177 St Mungo’s (FSH0054), para 4.7 and 4.8
178 Q231 (Caroline Nokes MP, Department for Work and Pensions)
179 BCHA ()
180 Framework Housing Association ()
181 Bromford ()
182 , LGA, 29 November 2016
183 Hestia Housing Support ()
184 Emmaus UK ()
185 Octavia Housing ()
186 Q29 (Dr Jonathan Hobson, University of Gloucestershire)
187 Women’s Aid ()
189 , Home Office, 8 March 2016, page 28
190 Women’s Aid ()
191 Q95 (Sian Hawkins, Women’s Aid) and Women’s Aid ()
192 Q84 (Sian Hawkins, Women’s Aid)
193 Q76 (Sian Hawkins, Women’s Aid) and Women’s Aid ()
194 Q93–4 (Sian Hawkins, Women’s Aid)
195 Q54 (Merida)
196 Women’s Aid ()
199 During the Communities and Local Government’s inquiry into ‘Homelessness’ in late 2016, they heard evidence that some supported housing tenants living in a hostel had been advised against seeking employment, as they would become liable to cover their rent costs which would be more than their income. See: , Communities and Local Government Committee’s 3rd Report of 2016–17, Paras 94–97
200 Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions ()
201 Q241 (Caroline Nokes MP, Department for Work and Pensions)
202 Bromford ()
203 Q17 (David Orr, National Housing Federation)
204 Framework Housing Association ()
205 Q139 (Charlotte Norman, St Vincent’s Housing Association)
206 Emmaus UK (), para 12
207 Arlington (FSH0112)
208 Q49 (Tessa Bolt)
209 Q48 (Merida)
210 Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions ()
211 Q245 (Caroline Nokes MP, Department for Work and Pensions)
212 Q17 (Zhan McIntyre, SFHA)
213 , Communities and Local Government Committee, 2016–17
214 Q18 (Dr Jonathan Hobson, University of Gloucestershire)
215 Q68 (Gillian Connor, Rethink Mental Illness)
217 Q246 (Caroline Nokes MP, Department for Work and Pensions)
218 Q254 and Q247 (Caroline Nokes MP, Department for Work and Pensions)
219 Q69 (Anne Lawn, Sense)
220 Q69 (Gillian Connor, Rethink Mental Illness)
221 Q66 (Anne Lawn, Sense)
28 April 2017